Good Story

Thanks to all who played the game--you know the one in this post: And The Winner Is...

Several, who just by recognizing the typeface used in the titling of the show, correctly identified my pick for the Best TV Drama Ever. The type face is called FrizQuadrata and the show is Law & Order.



Now if you have a few minutes let me tell you why Law & Order (the original) is important; and the best ever. 

You could talk about its importance by citing things like: 

  • It's the longest-running crime drama on American primetime television. Its record of 20 seasons is a tie with Gunsmoke for the longest-running live-action scripted American prime-time series. Both series are surpassed only by the animated series The Simpsons (in its 25th season as of 2013).
  • It's the largest drama franchise with several spin-offs including the still running Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
  • It continues to have a strong syndication presence and is now on NetFlix®.
  • It has the coolest theme song and sound effects of any show ever. It's DONK, DONK sound effect on scene changes is iconic.

But to me, the real importance of Law & Order is that it is one of the very few examples we have of superb writing, character development, relevance, and excellent acting. How did they do it week after week for 20 years?

It has all the elements of great story--something that is becoming extremely rare these days. Sadly! Not only do we not have good stories written for TV and film, but it seems like we are as humans living mostly boring stories.

One of my favorite is books is by Robert McKee called "Story."  Robert McKee teaches writers in sold-out audiences around the world. He himself has written numerous TV and feature film scripts. His "Story" class is considered the ultimate class for screenwriters and filmmakers.

In his book, he talks about the demise of good stories. He gives several causes and then writes:

"The final cause for the decline of story runs very deep. Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what's worth living for, what's worth dying for, what's foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth--the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on those questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism--a great confusion of values. As the family disintegrates and sexual antagonisms rise, who, for example, feels he understands the nature of love? And how, if you do have a conviction, do you express it to an ever-more skeptical audience?
"This erosion of values has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story. Unlike writers in the past, we can assume nothing. First we must dig deeply into life to uncover new insights, new refinements of value and meaning, then create a story vehicle that expresses our interpretation to an increasingly agnostic world. No small task."

That, dear friends, is not just good advice for writing good story. It's vital to living a good story.